An important factor in understanding the lack of visibility of gays and lesbians and their issues in Greek society is the hostile social and public policy climate. Supporters of gay rights have typically framed their arguments in terms of justice and equal treatment, whereas opponents use traditions, religious teachings and arbitrary arguments to justify their active opposition to the enactment of current and forthcoming European policies designed to protect gay people from unpleasant discrimination. At the governmental level, homosexuality remains stigmatized through unequal practices. The lack of legal recognition of family structures, the persistence of threats, the perpetuation of false stereotypes, and the lack of political will shown by the authorities in the fight against discrimination are demonstrative of such attitudes (Vlami ). Prejudice is of grave concern, aggravated by the current Eurobarometer (2007) evidence. The data suggest that Greece is one of the most puritanical societies in Europe when it comes to general attitudes toward homosexuality: 85% of Greek respondents feel that homosexuality is taboo, compared to 48% of European Union individuals.
There are ample case studies with evidence to suggest that sexual orientation minorities are victims of biased attitudes. Representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church have declared open war on the country’s same-sex marriage supporters 1 , keeping pace with the government. The Church criticizes the “impudence and shame of gay partnerships”, asserting that “gay people warp human nature with unspeakable, unnatural acts”. This argument contradicts the scientific findings that homosexuals are equivalent to heterosexuals in expressed psychological symptomatology (Kurdek , Cochran et al. , Kurdek ), that gay and lesbian couples report levels of relationship quality indistinguishable from those reported by married heterosexual couples (Howard et al. , Patterson ) and that children raised by homosexuals do not experience adverse outcomes compared with children raised by heterosexuals (Bailey et al. , Anderssen et al. , Golombok et al. ), Patterson ).
A tricky issue hit the Greek courts in 2008. Campaigners from the island of Lesbos had decided to resort to the court system to prevent the largest gay and lesbian community of Greece from using the word “lesbian”2 in its title. The campaigners claim that the international prominence of the word “lesbian” in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders and disgraces them around the world. This incident provides a strong sense of how prejudice can overshadow the lives of sexual orientation minorities in Greece.
Anti-lesbian and anti-gay prejudice manifests the same social structure and dynamics as racism and other prejudices against stigmatized groups. Historical, sociological, and psychological research demonstrate the existence of sexual stigma (the shared knowledge of society’s negative regard for any nonheterosexual behavior, identity, relationship or community), heterosexism (the cultural ideology that perpetuates sexual stigma) and sexual prejudice (individuals’ negative attitudes based on sexual orientation) and the effects that such attitudes have on the everyday experiences of gays and lesbians (Herek ).
Economists, on the other hand, have only recently explored the relationship between labour market outcomes and sexual orientation. To determine whether there exists discrimination3 against homosexual workers, a first step was to compare the earnings of homosexuals to the earnings of heterosexuals. Briefly, wage regressions have documented lower incomes for gays, but they have repeatedly shown higher incomes for lesbians (Plug and Berkhout ). Most studies seem to agree that earning discrimination against gay men is the dominating mechanism that explains the gaps, while lesbians’ premiums are rooted in optimal human capital accumulation. However, wage gaps are only one of the possible forms that discrimination can take. Labour legislation, for instance, focuses more frequently on discrimination in hiring, promotions and harassment.
Sexual minority workers throughout Europe have repeatedly claimed that they are made victims of discrimination in employment by being fired, not hired or not promoted because of their orientation (De Schutter ). To redress this wrong, they have turned to employers, legislative bodies and the courts, demanding laws and personnel policies that bar such prejudice. Those incidents have indicated to many policymakers that racism and other forms of discrimination could jeopardise the European Community’s aims of full market integration and social cohesion. Recently, legislators have moved toward a public policy that the labour market treatment of individuals should be based on their productivity rather than on their sexual orientation.
New Greek law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (2005/3304) came into force in January 2005 under the European Union’s Employment Equality Directive 2000/78. According to this legislation, employment equality applies to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation4. The goal of this Directive is to ensure that everybody living in the European Union can benefit from effective legal protection against discrimination. The Union’s priority is to enhance its ability to integrate its entire membership into a new arrangement of active citizenship, ensuring the long-term well-being of all in a diverse society.